Home > Latest News > How Obama can convince Moscow he’s not out to ruin Russia – Foreign Policy

How Obama can convince Moscow he’s not out to ruin Russia – Foreign Policy

February 23, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Barack Obama hopes to engage Russia in his effort to continue reducing nuclear armaments. For the president, this is vital for advancing his goal of a world less reliant on nuclear weapons, The Foreign Policy writes.
 
For Moscow, however, nuclear arms remain the bedrock of military security and a key component of Russia’s international status. This does not necessarily doom Obama’s approach, but it makes further reduction of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals contingent on Washington’s willingness to consider Moscow’s security needs. The United States should examine those requirements in order to understand not only what kind of a deal with Russia is possible, but how Russia’s needs relate to its own security interests. Having reconciled itself with the loss of both its outer empire in Eastern Europe and the inner one in what used to be the USSR, Russia has no need to physically control others and no interest in reabsorbing them within a new imperial construct.
 
Psychologically, being one of two nuclear superpowers helped the Kremlin overcome the trauma of imperial collapse and state disintegration. As a result, Moscow’s present concept of a great power is the reverse of the classical one. It aims not so much at dominating others as not being dominated by the stronger powers. Given that the Russian military is no match for the Pentagon — or soon the PLA — the Kremlin believes nuclear deterrence is the best way of preserving Russia’s strategic independence.
The United States, if it wants further cuts in nuclear weapons, will need to credibly assure the Russians that U.S. missile defense deployments, while effective against third countries (i.e., Iran), will not diminish Moscow’s deterrence power. Washington will also need, when discussing tactical nuclear weapons, to include non-nuclear systems with a capability for precise strikes. Finally, both Washington and Moscow soon need to reach out to Beijing to include it in the process of limiting nuclear arms and enhancing strategic stability. None of these tasks will be easy, but all of them will be necessary if relations among the world’s major nuclear powers are to be further stabilized.
 
Great-power stability is crucial for a number of reasons. One is stopping further nuclear proliferation, mainly in Iran and North Korea, for which Russia and China are key. Moscow’s assessment of the pace of Tehran’s nuclear program may differ from Washington’s, but it has zero interest in a nuclear-armed Iran. Russians might prefer a different way of dealing with Pyongyang than the very uneven U.S. approach to North Korea, but they clearly see the dangers of living next to a country that is constantly testing its nuclear devices and long-range missiles. U.S.-Russian cooperation at the strategic level certainly creates a better prospect for coordinated non-proliferation efforts.
 
Moscow’s biggest benefit from Obama’s foreign policy reset has been his downplaying of the NATO option for Georgia and Ukraine. Since then, the domestic changes in Kiev and, more recently, in Tbilisi have de-emphasized the NATO accession option even more. Russian policymakers and strategic planners feel relieved: They no longer have to account for the possibility of U.S. power projection too close to their borders. In the South Caucasus, they are happy to leave Georgia to deal with its own problems, and only worry that the long but uneasy truce between the Azeris and the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh may be broken. As Yerevan’s formal military ally with forces on the ground, and Baku’s economic partner, Moscow has a stake in keeping the situation under control — an interest shared by Washington.
 
The Foreign Policy concludes that Americans should kick the habit of seeing mainly through the prism of its past experience with the Soviet Union, or through the optics of Russia’s domestic developments alone. Obama’s nuclear bid, to be successful, requires an updated and comprehensive look at Russia.

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